5 Best Tropical Vacations

Dreamy beaches, silky seas, lush scenery, and endless sunshine: These are some of the top ingredients of the ideal tropical vacation. But each destination offers its own sultry charms. Some dazzle with their natural beauty. Others add cultural attractions to the mix, with exotic customs, architecture, and mouthwatering cuisine. A few offer eco-adventures and wildlife-rich wilderness, and some sleepy islands seem to take you back in time.

Bora Bora, Tahiti

Bora Bora is the quintessential South Pacific paradise. This lush and dramatically beautiful island in French Polynesia rises to a sharp emerald peak ringed by an azure lagoon. Clusters of coconut palms bristle along the beaches, and luxury bungalows perch over the crystal-clear waters, some with glass floor panels, so you can peer into the thriving sea below.

While Bora Bora scores top points for natural beauty, it also ticks the box if you're seeking some cultural appeal. The official language is French, and you can taste the Gallic influence in the gourmet cuisine. Add a bevy of fun water sports, kayak trips to tiny motu (islands), picturesque hiking trails, and adventures such as shark dives, and, it's easy to see why many travelers rank pricey Bora Bora as a top honeymoon destination and the ultimate, once-in-a-lifetime place for a tropical vacation.

Riviera Maya, Mexico

If you're looking for beautiful beaches, culture, and zesty cuisine all wrapped up with an affordable price tag, the Riviera Maya (Mayan Riviera) in Mexico is a great choice. On the tip of the Yucatán peninsula, along the Caribbean coast, the Mayan Riviera encompasses the resort destinations of Cancún, Playa del Carmen, and the island of Cozumel.

You don't have to stay at a big bustling all-inclusive resort here, though you'll find plenty fronting the long, postcard-worthy beaches. Intimate boutique hotels and yoga retreats are also in the mix. Swimming with stingrays and dolphins, diving, snorkeling, and fishing are popular activities, clear waters, and culture vultures can explore the magnificent ancient ruins of Tulum, in a stunning setting above the turquoise Caribbean Sea, or Chichén Itzá, a few hours' drive away from the resort strip.

Pick Aitutaki, Cook Islands

Aitutaki in the Cook Islands, with close ties to New Zealand, is a dream destination for would-be castaways. Blessed with a luminous aqua lagoon, lush peaks, sublime beaches bristling with palms, and some of the friendliest people in the South Pacific, Aitutaki ticks all the boxes for the perfect exotic tropical vacation.

Rarotonga is the largest of the Cook Islands, and the main tourist gateway, but Aitutaki, a 45-minute flight away, is the jewel in the crown, and that's saying plenty in an archipelago of 15 ravishing tropical isles. Swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, and fishing are all fantastic, and the island offers a window into the laid-back village life, which slows to a halt on Sundays for church services.

Kaua'i, Hawaii

Called the Garden Isle, Kaua'i is a tropical Eden, with lush rainforests, waterfalls, and spectacular green coastal peaks. A natural masterpiece of dramatic lava-sculpted landscapes, the island has a more laid-back vibe than its popular sister islands of Maui and Oahu. Though Kauai is known for being home to one of the rainiest places on earth, the island is comprised of several microclimates, and the area around touristy Poipu tends to be drier.

Underwater, you'll find colorful coral reefs, where turtles and tropical fish swim. On land, you can bask on golden beaches, admire the cloud-capped scenery from the cliffs above Hanalei Bay, hike among the velvety peaks of the breathtaking , and explore the deep and jungly 10-mile-long Waimea Canyon. Tropical gardens, waterfalls, cute coastal towns, and fantastic surf breaks are other top tourist attractions.